2017-06-24 Lady MacDonald - BradOrr


Conor and I left Calgary around 1pm and drove out to Canmore with the hopes of climbing the Legendary Lady MacDonald with her infamous knife edge ridge. Conor was a bit afraid of the ridge based on videos he's watched and I was thinking it probably isn't as bad as her reputation suggests. Turns out we were both wrong.

I'd researched where to park the car before we left, so the drive out was pretty straightforward. We started up the creek and found the trail head. The trail itself was different than trails we'd been on in recent weeks. It was wide, obvious and well maintained. The hike up through the trees was pleasant enough but it was warm.. hot actually.. and no wind or breeze to cool us down. As we gained elevation we passed a number of people coming down the mountain as we were heading up later in the day. After a while the trail became a bit rockier and soon we were moving between very large boulders. The landscape here was completely unexpected. I loved this part, the boulders and trees made for a totally cool landscape. I had no idea that it would be like this and the photographer in me wanted to stay and make photos for a long time, but we kept moving. I figured that on the way down the light would be even nicer and I'd get really nice shots. Just before the helipad, there was a large meadow on the eastern flanks of the mountain. It was clothed in beautiful green grass and dotted with wildflowers. So beautiful.

We made it to the helipad in 2 hours. I was surprised that we'd gained 900m at this point, the total climb is ~1300m. We stopped at the helipad and had some snacks before moving on. The mountain above is less traveled but the trail is well defined. We grunted up loose rocks and exposed ribs until reaching the summit ridge.. the dreaded knife ridge. We could see it snaking across the skyline, The summit far in the distance. We met two guys here that were taking a break, a short time later a third person, Keaton, joined us at the start of the traverse. Keaton was vising from Chicago and was out hiking the lower slopes and ended up on the ridge. His sister was waiting for him down at the helipad. Conor and I left to start the traverse.. a short time later we noticed that Keaton was following us. There are two sections to the ridge separated by a notch. The first half is narrow and exposed but not too scary, a bit of a warmup for what was to come. We made it to the notch and decided to drop our hiking poles. We really needed both hands on this ridge. We ran into a party coming back from the summit. They mentioned a 15m section of ridge just ahead that was quite exposed and said that butt scootching was a viable option. We thanked them and they continued on their descent. Keaton had caught up to us and we started off on the final section together.

The scrambling was fun, until we got to the crux. I was leading. The ridge narrowed considerably and there was a small notch where the ridge dropped somewhat sharply then started to rise again. I found a foot hold that let me position myself so I was straddling the ridge. I was going to try and butt scootch down this part but it was downhill and given my position - facing forward, straddling a narrow ridge and having to work my way downwards into the notch. I found I couldn't do it. It didnt' feel safe. I got off and made my way back to where Conor and Keaton were. I told them that I don't think I can do it. After some discussion, Conor moved around me and got into position. He was in the same spot that I was when I climbed up onto the rock but instead of straddling it he reached out with his left foot and found a foot hold. With that, he was able to move across the notch and onto the other side of it. From there the ridge became a bit more reasonalble and zipped up to the summit. He gave a hoot. I looked at Keaton and we decided to try again. I went first. The reaching foot hold felt like I was going to cramp up my hip but I was able to transfer across the notch and soon I was making my way up to the summit as well. Keaton followed like a champ.. We'd done it!.

While on the summit, the two guys that we met at the beginning of the ridge made their way to the crux and soon where on the summit with us. We rested and chatted for a while. Taking photos and having some snacks. Eventually it was time to head back.. the ridge was still tricky and required some care, but it was somehow easier to go back after struggling to go the other way. We made it back to our hiking poles, then to the start of the ridge and down to the Helipad. We met up with Keaton's sister.. They continued down the mountain and Conor and I sat on the helipad for a bit and just took it all in. Soon we started off again. On descent, we got off trail and ended up too far east, descending along the edge of a cliff. We checked the GPS and saw that we would reach the main trail eventually, so we continued on. I missed going back through the boulder field as we had completely circumnavigated it. We made it back to the car and quickly changed into non-hiking clothes. We wanted to get to the Grizzly paw for some dinner before 10 because at that point Conor's not allowed (no minors after 10) We made it by about 9:10pm and were seated.. After we ordered food a couple guys at a near by table recongnized us and asked how the hike was.. They were the two that had mentioned the butt scootching option at the crux. Soon after, we noticed that Keaton and his sister were seated behind them.. it was a reunion of sorts.. the end to an amazing day.